2013-14’s All-Underappreciated TeamPosted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014
We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.
- PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
- SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
- SG/SF: Caris LeVert, Michigan – LeVert, another player overshadowed by more accomplished and publicized teammates, was one of the nation’s most improved players in 2013-14. Shooting percentages went up across the board for LeVert in his second season – free throws (50% to 77%), two-pointers (33% to 46%), and three-pointers (30% to 41%) — as he grew into a reliable second scoring option for John Beilein. Expect his usage rate to only rise again next year, as the departures of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson mean that LeVert will play second fiddle to no Wolverine.
- PF: Sam Dower, Gonzaga – Dower may never have been as physical as Gonzaga fans would have liked; he may not believe he ever committed a foul in a Gonzaga uniform; and his incredulous facial expressions made him easy bait for opposing fans. But by golly, Sammy D could play. His WCC Tourney MVP performance helped the cause, but fan appreciation may never have caught up to his on-court production, which combined better-than-you-thought work on the glass (21.1% DR, 8.8% OR) with a lethally efficient offensive game (59% 2FG, 82% FT). In 2013-14, Gonzaga did what Gonzaga does – namely, win the WCC regular season and tournament titles, and a game in the Dance to boot – and Sam Dower was this team’s MVP.
- C: Alex Kirk, New Mexico – In the minds of many, Kirk took a step backwards in 2013-14. His outside touch often eluded him (21% 3FG), while Cameron Bairstow’s emergence marginalized Kirk’s overall offensive impact, but the Lobos’ big man was a key cog in another fine season in Albuquerque. While he averaged a shade more points and rebounds than he did a season ago, his real impact was felt on the defensive end. Kirk logged 2.7 blocks per game (his block percentage of 8.8 percent ranked 59th in the country), and anchored a defense that was third best in the country in two-point defense. Bairstow may have been the player to put together the breakout season many had expected from Kirk, but his value to the Mountain West Tournament champions should not be overlooked.